Austerity at a royalm wedding? Oh, come now. Surely not. Prince Charles and Lady Diana will be wed July 29 in a blaze of pageantry and color, won't they? As only the British can do it -- scarlet-clad coachmen, thoroughbred grays, ermine cloaks, flags, bands, Grenadier Guards in black busbys, Horse Guards?
Of course, there's to be pomp aplenty. Lady Diana will ride to the ceremony in a splendid glass coach, brightly lit inside so crowds and television cameras can see her. No fewer than four separate processions of coaches will carry royalty and the bride to St. Paul's Cathedral where 160 yards of special cherry-red carpet are to be laid beneath gilded ceiling and soaring dome.
But spectacular as it will be, the sky is by no means the limit. Prince Charles himself is acutely aware that the British economy is the doldrums, and that 2.5 million people here are out of work.
Moreover, the royal family is eager to help the handicapped in this, the international year of the disabled.
No overall cost estimate is yet availalbe. Seated beneath the chandelier of the handsome Billiard Room in Buckingham Palace the other day, Anna Wall of the palace press office was firm: "There's no desire for extravagance at a time of recession," she said.
No special flags are to fly along the route, except for The Mall and Admiralty Arch. To erect special viewing stands for the public along the route would be too expensive, so there are to be none. No special floodlighting will be used at night. The clergy in St. Paul's will use their regular copes (robes). The flowers for the wedding will come free of charge from the Worshipful Company of Gardeners.
The Palace goes to some lengths to stress its understanding that many British people have fallen on hard times.
The huge wedding cake (which will be four feet high and weigh 168 lbs. uniced) is sumptuous, indeed, but is being made by Navy cooks at the Royal Naval Cookery School at Chatham.
"Most of the people involved are doing their usual jobs anyway," said Mrs. Wall. "You know, police, Palace staff, extra troops to line the route.
The official souvenir, priced at L1.95 (about $4) is expected to make a profit of L300,000 ($630,000), which will go to the disabled.
Still, there will be splendor enough for all. Costs to the state will largely be recouped by what the British hope will be 250,000 or so extra tourists from the United States and elsewhere.
"Shall I move on to the cakes?" Mrs. Wall inquired. "People all over the country are making them for the Prince and Lady Diana. We're asking them, please don't send them here. I mean, we'd be inundated with cakes, wouldn't we? Cakes everywhere. . . . No, it's splendid for clubs and villages and so on to bake cakes, but we do suggest they give them to a charity or a worthy group.
"They are to take photographs of their cakes, you see, and send them to the Prince and Lady Diana, who will see the wonderful work done."
Meanwhile, for the rest of us nonroyal residents of London, austerity is rather more of a daily companion.
It is evident twice a day at my own small wooden, white-painted, Claygate Railway Station, for instance, set beside green fields in suburban-yet-countryfied Surrey, 15 miles southwest of the city.
There, at 8:46 in the mornings and one minute past midnight, no electric train hauls itself to a stop on the line between Guildford and Waterloo. The two services have been cancelled as part of British Rail's latest economy drive. The morning loss is not so bad: There's always the 8:36 and the 8:56. But the gap at night is grevious.
That in turn means a mad dash to Waterloo from theater, dinner, meeting, or press conference in the city just when all those around are relaxing. They live in town or close in.
"Yes, it's too bad," agreed a spokesman for British Rail, "but your lost services are symbols of the economic recession and a lot of other factors.They won't be restored unless the economy picks up again.